Richard had to use the bathroom, had to vomit, had to open a window, had to drink litres of designer French water, had to take several aspirins, had to have a blood transfusion, had to be joking to think that this was any sort of life.
Richard could not get out of bed, could not turn or move; who had used his head as a punch bag ? He checked his face. Teeth intact. Stubble, even the stubble stank of old cigarettes, but no discernable cuts, bruises, bleeding.
The room had an unbearage fug of everything that was unholy and unhealthy. He had to open the window but it was minus God-knows what outside. It would purify the stench … or was that sunlight ? There would be no sunlight for at least five months, meanwhile … water.
But every movement resulted in an internal knockout blow to the head. Some inner-cranial entity was hell-bent on kicking the crap out of the back of Richard’s eyes. And he had to vomit. The thought made him want to vomit. He had to use the bathroom. The thought of that made him want to vomit. The infamous, cruel and unusual, you are being held to account, porcelain punishment.
Dreading how much repulsive fluid was able to emerge, projectile or explosive, from this paragon of animals, and what a Styxian stench would engulf the flat, our pilgrim makes the journey, more or less on his knees, to the bathroom, and we shall close the door on that chapter and return when sufficient ablutions have been made.
London, the clocks one hour behind. Chris woke up in Battersea, in Melanie’s flat. She sat on his bed as he drank his tea. There was toast with jam and marmalade waiting. Later they could go into the West End, take in a museum, see a film, have a beer and talk over old times. The room had central heating, the flat had a newly-painted feel, everything seemed so clean, ordered and organised.
London, several miles north in Chalk Farm, Alan was nursing a cold in his sister Jo’s flat. How could he have been such an idiot as to go walking, in the Berlin winter, knowing he had a late flight that evening. Freezing streets, overheated U-Bahns, chilly airport lounges, a stifling cramped sweaty plane, draining immigration, bedlam at baggage and then … and then the long journey on the London Tube. After several teas, lots of sympathy noises, and a potential overdose of Lemsip, Alan screened the Super 8 film.
“She’s gorgeous, that Julie. You little tinker, you ! I told you Berlin would do you the world of good.”
Back on Berlin time, Daniel Roth was reflecting on his night out. Instead of hitting the Czar Bar, or meeting workmates in some lifeless stuffy time-frozen 70s style pub, he went solo, trying some bars around Yorckstrasse. New year, new start. He restricted himself to wine, and experimented holding his cigarette in different styles. He didn’t want to look too affected or effeminate, yet he succeeded in being both. However, he did end up chatting with two German girls and could feel them about to succumb to his charms, giving him a double Weihnachten (Christmas) gift, until they linked arms and departed. Daniel spent the rest of the evening drinking with the old Turkish barkeeper, whose face seems inscribed with wisdom, gentleness and experience. He thought back over his conversation with Jeanette, and his killer put down.
His feet were fast freezing, coins devoured by the phone box, Jeanette’s voice exuding warmth, comfort, opulence.
“We absolutely adored it, there’s no question, no question at all that it meets our criteria, only, well, how shall I put it delicately ? Daniel, it is a little near the bone for some of our board. I’m sure you know the section to which I allude.”
Daniel paused for effect.
“The magazine’s called ‘Savage Revolt’.”
A few seconds of silence.
“Do you know, you are absol…, no, quite right, we have an obligation to the artist, and … and, if certain people don’t wish to read it, they don’t have to, yes, yes. Let’s do it. I’m going to go to bat for you.”
“Unedited, you have my word. Now, my young Hemingway, what are you doing on Silvester ? I’m having a little soiree and you simply must come. There’s a lot of people that want to meet you.”
Sunday afternoon, Daniel found one of the few Lebensmittel open and bought more wine, Sekt, chocolate, tins of goulash, giant tins of soup, cigarettes, cigarette papers, factory-produced bread and cake-type items, then returned home. He was going to read some books Chris had loaned him, maybe write a follow-up story. It seemed official. He was going to be published, and people wanted to meet him. Controversial already. But, it was Berlin. Maybe it was all just so much bullshit. He opened the wine, opened Dickens, took a swig straight from the bottle and thought, “Fuck me !”
“Fucking hell, never, never, never again,” announced Richard to no one in particular, as there was no one with him, save the Tasmanian devil running amok inside his brain. He had finished the water, and was now settling down for a day of mint tea and self-recrimination.
Serves him right for expecting anything good to happen in this shit city, in this shit life. He had hoped that he would be waking up, snuggling up, to Johanna.
At least this time he couldn’t blame himself for being drunk or too forward or not forward enough. He had been at the bar early, and waited. And waited … and waited. Johanna had stood him up.
Richard was happy to see Chris sitting at the end of the bar in Biberkopf. Happy, but not surprised. The previous Saturday, it had been Chris’ idea to go to some clubs in Mitte. The reason given was to have a break from the Czar Bar, but Richard knew that Chris was hoping to see Monika.
They had gone to several bars and clubs around Rosenthaler Platz but had just watched other people dance, rather than join in. Going out clubbing was going to be very different without the Gang.
Chris took an immediate dislike to a girl from New Zealand, whom he found loud and brash and not entirely pretty. She was dancing with a German theatre student (they surmised) who was wearing a white polo neck tucked into white jeans, held up with black braces. Chris took an instant dislike to him too.
The dreaded twosome began dancing, acting out some scenario that had her pretending to slap him, and him turning away in agony, with mechanical movements.
“Look the fuck at that. Robot dancing. Fucking hell, what is this, nineteen seventy-four ?”
“Do you think,” asked Richard, trying to salvage the evening, “that in some parallel universe, there are robots who go out, get lubricated, and start people dancing ?”
“Yes. I’m sure that’s exactly what happens.”
Richard felt his joke deserved better than that, but he knew the underlying cause. Chris was devastated over losing Monika. Considering the way the break up happened, there was little chance of a reconciliation.
Just over an hour after leaving the Mitte club, they were back in the Czar Bar, agreeing that they belonged here, with the squatters, punks, hard-core alcoholics, Tom Waits and Nick Cave, not with the would-be beautiful people and Euro Disco.
Having worked there with Jake, Chris was now well known and accepted. He knew nearly everyone by name, and gave Richard the low-down, who was worth knowing, who was best to avoid.
Tonight, it was Andrei and Olga working. Andrei resembled a Viking marauder, more than a Slav, with long blonde hair and a long blonde beard. He wasn’t especially tall, but made up for it by having an amazing girth. He was, quite simply, not a man to mess with. Occasionally some idiot with suicidal tendencies would venture his luck, but it was a short-lived enterprise. With Andrei it was one strike and you’re out. His girlfriend, Olga, was tall and slim, with blonde hair and a majestic bearing, looking like a Russian princess (Revolution notwithstanding). It was painfully easy to fall in love with her. So, of course, Richard did.
Apart from her beauty, she possessed two talents, highly prized. One was that she made the best Bloody Marys . . . ever. It was a remarkable sight to see giant, unwashed, street-fighting men sipping her concoction through a delicate straw.
The second talent was her voice. She would accompany herself on guitar, simple but effective picking, and out of her thin frame came the voice of an angel. An angel, however, with a distinct liking for tequila.
As there was barely a night without someone coming in with a guitar and playing, whether they were requested to or not, and as Olga loved the attention, so deserved, she often gave an impromptu concert .
This night, however, there was a little tension between her and her boyfriend. Richard sensed this, but Chris, drinking quickly and encouraging Richard to do same, was too busy with his own problems.
Then Jake arrived, making all attempts at conversation useless. He bombarded Chris and Richard with a detailed account of the awful food he had just eaten at a late night Imbiss. When he left to use the toilet, Chris said,
“What a fucking voice. Like a foghorn.”
“Yeah, Foghorn Leghorn.”
This unexpected, though remarkably apt comment, together with the beers and vodka, put them into a laughing fit, that continued as Jake returned. He naturally was curious as to the cause. Richard was in the mood for mischief.
“We were speaking about favourite cartoon characters. I used to love Foghorn Leghorn, but we can’t remember his catchphrase.”
Jake stepped up, puffing out his chest and strutting around,
“I say I saw a, saw a, I say, I saw a chicken”
It was too much. Richard was having difficulty breathing and Chris all but fell off his chair. Jake took this as a positive sign, and continued, with appropriate chicken and rooster movements.
Olga was looking at Richard and laughing, knowing he was the instigator.
“Hey, Olga gets it.”
“No, she’s from Moscow, she doesn’t know what the fuck a Foghorn Leghorn is,” Chris argued.
But after that, memories became hazy; there were snatches of Jake strutting around the bar, greeting bemused newcomers with the catchphrase and ordering drinks in the galline manner.
Richard woke up some time Sunday afternoon, having no idea how they had arrived home. He got into a panic and checked his possessions. Travel ticket, watch, wallet, even some money left. All was well with the world and what wasn’t could wait.
The next day Chris was at Richard’s work, joking with the bar staff. Matias was making the bar, a moustachioed bodybuilder type, who had a hands-on policy with regards to the female staff. Ully was being her pleasant self, obviously not too concerned with making large tips and a new girl, Jolande, was also working. Richard described her as that rarest of creatures, a German with a sense of humour.
Seeing that Chris was a friend of Richard’s, she made some jokes with him, and hid his beer when he went into the kitchen to say, “Hi,” to the chef.
Unfortunately, she was the world’s worst at keeping a joke, and couldn’t help bursting out laughing after only a few seconds. But she earned points for the effort.
Later, as she walked into the kitchen, Chris heard a high-pitch shriek, and saw Jolande running out, chased by Richard who, by the position of his hands, had just grabbed her sides.
“What are you doing to her ?” laughed Chris.
“Tickling her, of course,” was the reply, as natural as possible.
After Richard’s shift, they sat and drank together, Jolande joining them as she ate her meal. Chris appeared happy and relaxed, but was clearly looking more cheerful than he actually felt.
By tacit agreement, they took the night buses to the Czar Bar.
Micha and Serge had the bar, and they tended to close relatively early. They didn’t exactly draw the crowds either, playing continuous Death Metal. Though they changed the CD’s periodically, the noise remained the same.
Walking along Rigaer Str, in the early hours, the outdoor lamp of The Czar Bar was usually the only beacon, though hardly of hope, as there may well have hung a sign above the door, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter’. No one here gets out sober.
They opened the door, pushed aside the curtain and found two bar stools easily. The bar was mainly empty, the few drinkers dispersed to all corners.
After ordering two Becks and two vodkas, Chris got straight to the point.
“I have to win Monika back.”
He was expecting an evening of planning and scheming. He wasn’t prepared for Richard’s answer,
It almost knocked Chris off his stool. When he finally spoke, it was defensive,
“I thought you liked Monika ?”
“I did. Do. But you and her together . . . I don’t think so.”
“Wow. Like . . . shit ! You mean it ?”
“Oh, yeah. Lovely girl, and you’re . . . OK, I suppose, but the two of you ? How many fights did you have ? How many times did you break up and get back together ? How many times did you come to me and ask what the fuck to do ?”
“You want individual figures or a combined total ?”
“C’mon. Every time you had to pay rent, it was problems.”
Chris knew only too well, as he had to walk to the flat of Ute’s friend, thus remaining in indirect contact with his ex-girlfriend.
“I know, it was a constant pain. And the work. When I left the Noodle Nuthouse, you hugged me, she almost cut my balls off. She wanted me to stay a Spüler. And then she hated that I was only a Spüler. Frauen !”
“What we need . . . is a new drink. The shots are gonna act too quickly.”
“I don’t think these bastards carry Pimms.”
“What we need is . . . “ Richard looked at the unimpressive, shabby collection of bottles. “Tequila. Tequila ? What goes with tequila ?”
“Cactus-smelling vomit. Wouldn’t mind a Run ‘n’ Coke.”
“Can’t see rum. Or Coke.”
“We’re gonna have to stick to beer and vodka, aren’t we ?”
“Looks like it,” agreed Richard.
There was a thud on the back door, then some keys desperate to find the lock. The door opened and something could be heard dragging itself in. Micha and Serge turned to each other and exchanged curses in Russian.
After some uncomfortable sounds, resembling a man being tossed from side to side in the corridors of a ship in a heavy storm, Jake appeared, somehow remaining upright in the entrance between vestibule and bar. He saw Chris and Richard and greeted them, hugging Chris from behind, but forgetting to let go.
Serge spoke in German, Jake answered and then stopped, as if suspended. He remained like this for some minutes, as the Russians started to close the bar, packing up the crates and chasing the drinkers out.
Richard began to leave, but Chris stopped him.
More talk between The Russians and Jake, then they left, shaking their heads and muttering. Jake screamed after them, half German, half English,
“Kein angst, alles klar (don’t worry, it’s all right) I’ll lock up. Ich habe der Schlüssel (I have the key.) You go to bed.” Then he turned to his two guests,
“You two guys need a drink ? ‘Cause I might have something in back. Don’t know, have to check. Have to check.”
Yet Jake remained standing and Chris had to lead him to the store room. Once inside, he made a series of pleasantly surprised sounds and returned, armed with beer bottles and a half bottle of Stolichnaya.
The remainder of the night was spent with Chris speaking about Monika, Richard speaking about Olga and Jake just speaking.
When Richard began working that night, he still had a hangover, which gradually faded, thanks to the endless coffees he drank. By the time his shift was over, he was in the mood for a drink, and, as luck would have it, Chris was helping Jake in the Czar Bar that night.
Richard awoke and, jolting up, looked around the strange flat, wondering where the hell he was. Then it came back to him, with the audio aid of Chris’ snoring. He looked on the sofa and saw that Chris hadn’t moved for … he looked around, feeling for his watch, but it was too dark to make out the time. The next stage was to search for his wallet. It was in his jeans pocket. He opened it and though depleted, there were still some Deutsche Marks remaining.
Domestic noises from behind the large, double doors; footsteps on creaking floorboards, a tap running, a container lid popping open.
A door slowly opened, and Burkhardt peeked in, raising his hand to Richard’s wave. Richard got up, put on his jeans and went to the bathroom, grateful that he always had a travel toothbrush with him.
He would have preferred waking up next to a beautiful German girl, but that would have to wait.
After brushing, and washing his hands and face, he went into the kitchen, where the coffee was waiting for him. Burkhardt offered him one of his Marlboros.
“Your friend is still sleeping. I hope he is OK. I was going to look at him, to make sure he was breathing, then he began snoring. Was it that loud all night ?”
“Oh, yes. The brandy really helped.”
Burkhardt had to go to his shop, so Richard thanked him for his help, and went to wake up Chris But, again, the irresistible force of Richard’s shaking met the immovable object of Chris’ comatosed slumber, until Burkhardt suggested leaving him to sleep it off.
“Well,” said Richard, “that may take a few hours.”
“Do you want to see my shop ? I have to make office things, but we can play records and drink coffee. Just leave a note, saying we’ll be back later.”
“Good idea, but I’m guessing he’ll still be asleep.”
“Haha. We can see.”
The small shop was on Stargarder Strasse, at the Prenzlauer Allee end, which Chris considered the poor man’s Schönhauser Allee. The two north-south main roads ran almost parallel, tapering into Wilhelm Pieck Strasse at the southern end, were linked by the S-Bahn, and dissected by the dreaded Danziger Str.
It was mid morning, and apart from the occasional bakery and general paper-drink-sweet shop, everything was closed and quiet.
Burkhardt opened up, turned on the lights, and told Richard to feel free to look around. Then he went behind the counter to turn on the sound system.
“We have a CD player, cassette deck and stereo, of course,” he laughed, waving his hand over the carefully arranged racks of vinyl records. “Please, play anything you like and I’ll make some coffee.”
“Can I smoke in here ?”
Burkhardt came back and with an expression indicating what he thought of such a silly question, answering,
“Ja, of course!”
Richard looked around, acquainting himself with the organization of the shop, the different areas for different genres.
Records, tapes, books, magazines and CD’s were everywhere, yet clearly ordered. The walls had various picture discs on them, or posters and magazine covers. Behind the counter were more records, either Burkhardt’s choices or rarer pieces.
Richard moved over to the Jazz selection, a small, but quite comprehensive collection, with most of the giants represented. He picked up a Miles Davis disc, ‘Star People’, turning it over in his hands, then a Dizzy Gillespie compilation, a Mingus LP and was studying a Charlie Parker double set.
Burkhardt came back with two mugs of coffee, a Marlboro firmly grasped in the corner of his mouth.
“Anything you want to hear ?”
Burkhardt had on black leather trousers, a shirt of bold colourful vertical stripes, leather jacket and thick square glasses. Richard was expecting some hard-core industrial German noise from the early Eighties. Instead, the jaunty, almost twee introduction of The Beach Boys’ ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice ?’ came on, the thump of a bass drum launching the song into its infectious verses.
“Sixties music is my passion. I try to buy everything I can from that time. It sells OK. I don’t have anything really rare, just some interesting albums from different countries. I wish I had been there. Imagine, living at that time, all this great new music coming out. Not knowing what was going to happen next.”
Richard moved over to the book section and saw that most of them were indeed about Sixties artists.
“Have you read these ? Some of them ?”
“All of them. I’m very boring, I know !”
“No, not at all.”
“But they only tell a part of the story, they only focus on one particular artist, but I think the power of The Sixties was that they were all part of a much larger scene, it was all connected, they all influenced and helped change each other.”
“Like The Beatles hearing Dylan, The Stones hearing The Beatles ?”
“Yes, but much more, much … “ Burkhardt searched for the appropriate word in English, but his gesture and expression were eloquent enough.
“That is what I want to do; write a book on all the music, how it all fitted together. I always read the same things, as you said, Dylan went electric after hearing The Beatles, who began writing longer songs, then The Stones made their concept album. What I want to show is how all of the competition lead to greater and greater music and creativeness.”
He broke off to listen to a particular section of the ‘Pet Sounds’ record that was playing. He continued,
“Let’s take the big three: Dylan, coming from the Folk background, The Beatles from Rock ‘n’ Roll, The Stones from Blues. The Beatles take their influence and give it something of their own. This gives an example to The Stones, to write their own music. The Who follow The Stones, seeing that it was possible to be successful, without looking like Paul McCartney, and that writing original songs was what separated the great bands from all the others. Meanwhile, in America, The Byrds listen to Dylan and Folk, but see ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and Roger McQuinn goes to buy a 12-string Rickenbacker and make one of The Sixties most iconic guitar sounds. They cover Dylan, making his name bigger. He already has critical approval, now comes mass success. All the time the music is going back and forth over the Atlantic, The Beatles hear all these great words, and feel embarrassed by their simplistic lyrics, and Dylan loves the power of the beat. He goes electric at a folk festival, the crowd go crazy, half love it, half hate it, hate him for doing it. Meanwhile, we have these boys, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson writing, playing, producing. He gets into a contest with Lennon-McCartney, who can write the most perfect, sophisticated pop song ? The Beatles, listening to Dylan, listening to The Byrds, mix jangly guitars with deeper lyrics, come out with ‘Rubber Soul’, The Beach Boys hear this, as well as Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and start working on Pet Sounds.
Burkhardt pointed off behind him at the music coming out of the speakers.
“The Beatles hear Pet Sounds and realize the bar has been lifted, not by a small amount, but higher than they thought possible. McCartney calls ‘God Only Knows’ the best song ever written. They have to top it. Meanwhile, Mr Dylan releases ‘Blonde on Blonde’. In August 1966, The Beatles put out ‘Revolver’, what a collection of songs, what a cover. German artist, naturally. Brian Wilson hears this, begins work on an album to be even better. The first result is soon heard: ‘Good Vibrations’. They use a theremin, and create a totally new sound. Now the race is really on. Who is going to win ? The Beatles are working on what will be ‘Sgt. Pepper’ but rumours come over about a project called ‘Smile’, a work so powerful that it will blow the minds of all who hear it. Then The Beatles had ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’. Brain Wilson, for … whatever reasons, put the ‘Smile’ project aside. And it was never released.”
Burkhardt let out a sigh, a requiem for all the great music that never was.
“Some songs crept out, some bootleg recordings of backing tracks and finally a watered down version, to fill the contract. Never more would The Beach Boys be a major band. Their following LP’s sold bad, some not even making the Top 100.
“Music is like an arrow that never falls, but carries on, forever. Bands get to ride along, for a while, then fall away. After ‘Smile’, The Beach Boys fell away.
“Meanwhile, The Beatles won the contest. ‘Sgt. Pepper’ came out in 1967, the ‘Summer of Love’. Of course, I have seem photos, they recorded it in the freezing cold London winter. Then what happened ? No more Brian Wilson, Dylan had disappeared. And they bring out ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, not exactly a flop, but no masterpiece. And The Stones continue to follow The Beatles, and release ‘Their Satanic Majesty Requests’. I’m a Stones fan, but even I have a hard time listening to that. It seemed as if the arrow has fallen. What better time for Mr Dylan to reappear. Missing all of the hippy scene, in January 1968, one of his best, ‘John Wesley Hardin’. People always write about The Stooges, or The Ramones making simple Rock ‘n’ Roll, or stripping down the music to the bare essentials and starting again. Ah, Mist ! (bullshit). I love those bands, but it is shit, they played like that because they couldn’t play any better ! Johnny Ramone said, in interviews, “We didn’t play any covers, because we couldn’t play anybody else’s songs.” It was Mr Dylan, and The Band who really stripped music, cut out all the excess and brought it all back home. And after Mr Dylan comes back ? The Beatles make ‘The White Album’ and The Stones make ‘Beggar’s Banquet’.
“Then we have the trio of Rock deaths, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But what about the other trio of drug casualties ? Pink Floyd’s Sid Barrett ? Peter Green, a guitarist as good as, if not better than Clapton ? And, our old friend, Brain Wilson ? If he had finished ‘Smile’, how would he have followed it ? What would The Beatles have written in response ? Not ‘I Am The Walrus’, I’m sure. Who knows what great music was waiting to be written ?
“Do you know what the first bootleg was ?” Burkhardt asked, rather abruptly.
“Yeah, it’s Dylan, ‘Great White Hope’, I think.”
Burkhardt smiled and gave a single nod. He moved over to a corner, to the Classical section that Richard hadn’t seen, and pulled out a record with a dark sleeve, showing a wooden Crucifix.
“Good answer, but not right. This: ‘Miserere Mei’ by Allegri. Do you know the story ?”
Richard didn’t, so Burkhardt changed The Beach Boys for the new disc and waited for the first notes, so as to adjust the volume.
“It was kept by The Vatican. One of the Pope’s thought it was so beautiful, that it mustn’t be allowed to leave Rome. Not only that, it was only to be played in the Sistine Chapel, only at Easter. One year, a young man was able to hear it, maybe once, possibly twice, but certainly no more than that. He went straight to his room and wrote it out, note by note, from memory. The boy’s name was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was facing excommunication from the Church, but the new Pope was so impressed by his talent, that he permitted it. And if Mozart hadn’t been there, in Rome, at the time, maybe we wouldn’t be able to listen to it today.”
They sat in silence, just listening to the extraordinary heavenly singing. Burkhardt spoke, but no longer to Richard, his remarks were addressed to an unseen audience.
“I like to think that the arrow continues, that other bands can get a little of that creativeness and inspiration and, who knows, maybe again, we will have a Golden Age of classic after classic, after classic.”
After the piece had finished, Burkhardt caught up on paperwork, and Richard played Pet Sounds and John Wesley Hardin.
When they returned to the flat, Chris had only just woken up and was feeling hideous. He refused a coffee, made a very embarrassed ‘thank you’ and left with Richard, who agreed to re-visit the store in the near future. He kept putting it off and when he finally did go back, it was gone, a Head Shop taking it’s place, a store selling Oriental merchandise and marijuana paraphernalia.
On returning home, Chris went straight to his bed and was asleep immediately. Richard took a shower, then went to the Kino (Cinema) and later to a few bars in Kreutzberg, just hoping to bump into Monika and therefore Lorelei. But he saw no one and drank alone.
On September 28th 2004, a re-recorded ‘Smile’ was finally released.